Youth Tackle Religious Diversity
Interspiritual Fraternity in Mexico City
by Elías González
Silence. Young people sitting in a circle. Prayers.
“This is how it all began, with a prayer, by the hand of God. Like a dream.”
Mexico City, one of the most populated cities on the planet, has historically been a land of encounter among cultures, civilizations, and religions. From when the Great Mexican Emperor Tlatoani Moctezuma welcomed the Spanish Hernán Cortés to the recent visit of María de Jesús Patricio, spokesperson of the National Indigenous Council, and beyond, diversity has been part of Mexico City’s very nature.
Although Christianity in its various denominations is Mexico’s most prominent religion, different spiritual languages come together in the streets and buildings of this large country. People from a wide spread of religions can be found – representing Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Baha’ism, and innumerable philosophical schools of thought.
Despite having been such a mixed bag for so long, diversity has not been a synonym for fraternity. In fact, violence and discrimination are widespread in Mexico’s history, starting with the marginalization original peoples have suffered and including suppression of religious diversity and violence against religious minorities.
In the face of this divisiveness, a group of young people have taken up the challenge to bridge the gap and replace attitudes of suspicion with attitudes of curiosity and understanding.
The First Three Years
It began in Mexico City. Young people from different religious backgrounds met under a common interest: to know each other and promote peace among religions through authentic conversations and interactions. As meetings continued, ties of friendship were woven, and the dream of founding a formal interreligious group made up of young adults echoed among them.
Actualizing this dream took time, roughly three years. There were many setbacks. To a large extent, the complications came from the adults within the religious communities. Many were against the meetings as they feared discussing different religions would cause young people to lose their faith. Further, what could a group of young adults with so little experience know anyway? Barriers began to rise in the group as the tension from these external conflicts began to spill over into their meetings. Yet their commitment to creating peace and fraternity among religions gave them the resilience to press on.
Little by little, doors opened, and both the youth and their communities began to develop trusting relationships. Finally ready to establish the group in a formal way, the youth created what they called Círculos, where they discussed different topics they chose together. These circles were held once a month, and it was agreed that the name of the group would be “Interspiritual Fraternity.”
Interpiritual Fraternity Today
Today, the Interspiritual Fraternity includes young people from some 20 different religious and/or spiritual communities. It should be noted that these young people do not serve as representatives of their communities, but engage in the Fraternity out of their own interest. Each participant in the Círculos is called a Director, which implies that they have a voice and voting equality. In each Círculo, topics and proposals are dealt with in a dialogical way, ranging from deepening mutual knowledge to attending invitations made to the Fraternity. Each Círculo also has a spiritual component where the group collectively shares a prayer.
In addition to the Círculos, the Interspiritual Fraternity facilitates other activities where young people can meet, expand their knowledge about spiritual diversity, and share life. These activities include deepening their knowledge of different religious traditions, visiting different religious and spiritual communities in Mexico City, and organizing opportunities for them to serve together.
On one occasion we helped at the ecological farm of the Vaishnava Community for Krishna Consciousness. A group of seven cleaned the herb orchards that were not currently in use and the places where retreats are held. Everyone commented on how the work helped them build trusting relationships with the other youth and feel a greater sense of community in the group as a whole.
Through its different activities, the Interspiritual Fraternity seeks to create bridges of understanding and recognize the multiplicity of paths in our shared search for the ‘transcendent.’ The objective is to work for peace and harmony through inclusive action that makes all participants feel like members of one big family.
Below are testimonies from some of the Interspiritual Fraternity counselors. We will continue building bridges of peace and harmony among the religious diversity in Mexico City. And we will continue to work together with similar groups in other countries to make this labor global and by degrees glimpse the fruits of love that has been sown:
“Harmony, hope, and purity of the heart is what I can feel each moment we share.” – Ricardo, Buddhist
“The Interspiritual Fraternity has allowed me to share, empathize, and most importantly, realize that I am a small herb that is part of a huge garden.” – Amina, Muslim
“It is a beautiful and enriching experience to share with brothers of the soul, because deep down, we are all that, brothers, united as brothers and humanity by the love of GOD.” – Tahirih, Bahá’í
“The authentic face-to-face with the other is a space of epiphany of the Mystery that, preceding us, calls us all to live in love. I believe that this type of encounter occurs in the Interspiritual Fraternity.” – Elias, Christian
Header Photo: Kieran McGlone, C.c. 2.0 nc